Why we can’t be too heavenly minded

I’m fascinated by the power of words to influence people. And I’m particularly interested in those catchy phrases that immediately make you say, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” but that, upon closer inspection, cause you to scream, “No! No! No!”

In fact, I have a special category in my quote collection for what I call “deceptively appealing” quotes or phrases. Things like, “There are no stupid questions.” Or, “We learn more from our failures than our successes.”

The other day I was reading Unseen by Jack Graham, and I was reminded of this dandy: “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” As Graham points out, that might sound great but it’s totally unbiblical.


I blame Johnny Cash. Now, I grew up on 1970’s rock-n-roll, but I’ve always been a fan of the late, great Cash. I share his rural/Delta/East Arkansas (but I repeat myself) roots. I relate to his man-in-black persona. And I admire his amazing gift for storytelling. But I think Cash might be responsible for popularizing the “heavenly minded” phrase. I doubt he came up with the it, but he wrote, recorded and sang the song, No Earthly Good, and it includes the refrain, “So heavenly minded, you’re no earthly good.”

Who wants to argue with Johnny Cash? Indeed, the overall message of the short song is great. It’s about spreading the Gospel by helping people in need rather than bragging about your faith or living a life sheltered around only those who already know Christ.

The irony, of course, is that the type of people Cash described as too “heavenly minded” aren’t really focused on heaven, they’re focused on themselves. The truly heavenly minded can’t help but do earthly good. In fact, it’s impossible to be “too” heavenly minded.

That’s not my opinion, it’s from the Word of God. Hebrew 12:2 reminds us to “fix our eyes on Jesus.” And Colossians 3:1-2 puts it this way: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

And, of course, Jesus modeled this, noting often that He was here to do the will of the Father. (See Hebrews 10:7, John 12:49, Philippians 2:8, Matthew 6:9-10, and Matthew 12:50.) Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52) because He was completely heavenly focused so he could do the ultimate in earthly good.

Graham points out that if we want to improve our outlook – and, I would add, the outlook of those around us – we have to improve our “uplook.” I see this modeled in the commissioning of the prophet Isaiah. Read Isaiah 6:1-8 and look for this pattern that we can all follow:

  • Look up – see God for who He is and worship Him.
  • Look in – see yourself as who you really are; a sinner in need of God’s grace.
  • Look out – see what God is calling you to do and faithfully do it.

Then live completely heavenly minded, and I promise you that you’ll do some amazing earthly good things.


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